Adapteva Parallella promises pocket-sized supercomputing

September 28, 2012 // 9:39 a.m.

Tags: #adapteva #andreas-olofsson #epiphany #epiphany-iii #epiphany-iv #gpio #kickstarter #microcomputer #parallella #parallel-processing #raspberry-pi

Semiconductor start-up Adapteva has launched a Kickstarter project with the aim of creating a 'supercomputer for everyone,' in the form of the Raspberry Pi-inspired Parallella board.

Like the Raspberry Pi, which has been staggeringly successful since it launched despite a few hiccoughs along the way, the Parallella board packs an ARM processor onto a credit-card sized form-factor with a wodge of memory, general-purpose input-output capabilities, and various ports. Where the Parallella differs, however, is in its performance potential, with Adapteva claiming to achieve around 50GHz of CPU-equivalent general-purpose computing performance from its Epiphany co-processor.

First, the more prosaic specifications: the Parallella board, as envisioned by Adapteva founder and chief executive Andreas Olofsson, uses a Zynx dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor running at 1GHz alongside 1GB of RAM, two USB 2.0 ports, a gigabit Ethernet port, and an HDMI connection. Its size is roughly equivalent to the Raspberry Pi, but its faster ARMv7 processor means it can run Ubuntu - the operating system with which it will ship. The GPIO capabilities are also enhanced, boasting a total of 58 pins for connection to external components.

It's the Epiphany co-processor that makes the Parallella board stand out, however. Featuring 16 processing cores, the chip is somewhat analogous to the old math co-processors found on 8086, 8088, 286 and 386 machines: a floating-point performance booster designed to run calculations many times faster than the CPU. Unlike the old 80287-style single-core co-processors, however, the Epiphany-III chip found in the Parallella boasts 16 highly-parallel processing cores and yet draws a tiny amount of power: like the Pi, the Parallella is powered through a micro-USB connector and draws around 5W under load.

If that isn't enough power, Adapteva plans a 'stretch goal' for the project: if the $750,000 original goal is reached, a new goal of $3M will be put in place in order to produce a version of the board based on the newer 28nm Epiphany-IV chip. Drawing under 2W, the Epiphany-IV packs 64 parallel processing cores for impressive performance.

Initially, however, that performance will be hard to tap. As a co-processor, software has to be specifically written to take advantage of the chip - although Adapteva is quick to point out that the system will work as a fully-functional ARM-based microcomputer straight out of the box. To that end, the company has promised to release all documentation and source code behind the chip under permissive open-source licences should the project reach its funding goal.

While the Parallella boards are significantly more expensive than the Raspberry Pi - costing $99 for the 16-core version and a projected $199 for the 64-core version, to the $35 RRP of the Raspberry Pi - they promise a significant amount of power in a very compact package, providing the company's funding goal is met.

More information is available on the company's Kickstarter page. If you need some convincing before parting with your cash, try this video of a - significantly bulkier than promised - prototype running Ubuntu:


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